The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act 2014

On March 4, 2014, The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act 2014 has come into force after it received the Presidential assent. This study revisits some of the salient features of this act.

Street vendors can be said to be businessmen, or more appropriately self-employed people, who sell their wares in the open air rather than in a closed shop or store. Street vendors sell their wares usually on stands, pushcarts, baskets or simply on tarpaulin sheets laid out on the road or footpath. They can be both stationary and mobile, based on whether they stay at one place throughout their working hours or move from one locality to other depending on the time of the day.

Throughout India’s history, hawking and street vending were the only ways through which goods and services were sold in the marketplace. It was only in the modern times after British came to India that the modern concept of selling goods and services in closed shops and stores emerged. Street vendors are usually found in urban areas in India. According to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, there are 10 million street vendors in India, with Mumbai accounting for 250,000, Delhi for 200,000, Kolkata for around 150,000, and Ahmadabad for 100,000.

Background of the Act

The bill marks a culmination of the efforts to legitimize the livelihood rights of street vendors, in a way acknowledging their importance in the urban economy.

  • The first step in this effort from any branch of government was taken way back in the 1980s when the Supreme Court had ruled on the constitutional validity of the right of street vendors to carry on their business by selling their services and goods on streets.
  • This was followed by the adoption of National Policy on Urban Street Vendors, 2004. Since the policy was not legally binding, several municipal bodies in various states chose to ignore it.
  • Following this, the Policy was revised by the government in 2009 and brought out in the form of National Policy on Urban Street Vendors, 2009; the same year it brought a Model Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill, 2009 which was distributed to all the States for legislation but was never enacted by the states.
  • This led to demand of a central law from a number of activist groups including NASVI (National Association of Street Vendors of India), which would apply uniformly to all the states and also give national recognition to the economic activity of street vending. This finally led to the drafting of the current bill by Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation under entries 20 (economic and social planning), 23 (social security and social insurance; employment and unemployment), and 24 (welfare of labour including conditions of work, provident funds, employers liability, workmen’s compensation, invalidity and old age pensions and maternity benefits) of List III of the Constitution.

Need for an act

According to statistics, there are around 10 million street vendors in India. They sell virtually every reasonable good and service, from food and clothes to sunglasses and newspapers or magazines. Street Vendors are often migrants from rural areas who don’t have the skills to do a job in the formal sector or are laid-off workers. They provide affordable and convenient services to the common man in towns and cities.

However, inappropriate license ceiling in most cities, like Mumbai which has a ceiling of 14,000 licenses, means more vendors hawk their goods illegally, which also makes them prone to the bribery and extortion culture under local police and municipal authorities, besides harassment, heavy fines and sudden evictions. In Kolkata, the profession was a cognizable and non-bailable offense. It is thus important that the government supports street vendors by protecting them from the routine harassment and extortion of money by police and municipal officials and makes the economic activity of vending more secure for them.

Salient features of the Act

The Street Vendors Act 2014 aims to protect the livelihood of street vendors by providing them a conducive and scare-free atmosphere to carry on their business without fear of harassment, eviction or extortion from police and municipal officials, and at the same time regulating the activity of street vending for the management of public spaces and traffic. Following are the specific provisions of the bill:

Town Vending Committee

The act provides for the creation of a Town Vending Committee (TVC) in each Local Authority. This TVC is envisaged as the central authority implementing the provisions of the bill.

The Town Vending Committee will be headed by Municipal Commissioner or Chief Executive Officer as chairperson. It will have other members as decided by the state government, representing the local authority, medical officer, planning authority, traffic police, NGOs etc. along with street vendors market associations. Here we not that at least 10% to be from non-governmental organizations, and at least 40% members will be members representing the street vendors, to be selected through election, of which one-third shall be women. The act makes provisions for due representation to SCs, STs, Minorities, OBCs and Persons with disabilities.

Street Vendors Survey

The Town Vending Committee will conduct a survey of all existing street vendors, within the area under its jurisdiction. It has also been mandated to carry out such survey in at least five years subsequently. Every street vendor, identified under the survey will be issued a certificate of vending (license) by the Town Vending Committee. This certificate would allow the vendors to carry out their business activities legally. The entire process of carrying out a survey before handing out licenses is to prevent arbitrary number of licenses being issued, which is the case in most cities as of now.

Vending Zones

A maximum of 2.5% of the total population of a ward or town or city will be given licenses for street vending. All vending activity will be carried out in the vending zones. In cases where the number of identified street vendors is more than the available licenses in a particular vending zone, licenses will be given on the basis of draws or lottery. The remaining vendors will be given licenses in any adjoining vending zone.

No eviction

No street vendor will be evicted before the survey is completed and vending licenses are issued. In case of death of a street vendor, his family member will be allowed to continue the vending activity until the validity of the license.

Procedure for relocation, eviction and confiscation of goods

The new act makes the procedure for relocation, eviction and confiscation of goods street vendor friendly. The provisions regarding relocation have been outlined clearly as follows:

  • Relocation should be avoided as far as possible, unless there is an urgent and clear need for the land in question
  • Affected vendors should be involved in the process of planning and implementation of their rehabilitation
  • It should be made sure that the living standards or livelihood levels of the street vendors are improved or at least remain the same as pre-evicted levels after their relocation
  • Street vendors shall not be relocated from natural markets where they have carried on their business for at least 50 years.
Concept of the Natural Market

The focus of the bill is on “natural market”, which has been defined as means a market where sellers and buyers have traditionally congregated for the sale and purchase of products or services. Under the act, the Natural Market has to be identified by the TVC. The act makes sure that the vendors are not evicted from such markets.

Grievance Redressal Mechanism

The street vendors act has made provisions for independent grievance redressal and dispute redressal mechanism composed of retired judicial officers. It also provides for a timely return of seized goods of street vendors. Perishable goods are mandated to be returned on the same day while non-perishable goods will have to be returned within 2 days, of the claim being made.

Protection from Harassment

One of the Sections of the act makes provisions for protection from harassment by police and other authorities.

Duty of the Street Vendors

The act provides for duty of the street vendors towards maintenance of cleanliness and public hygiene, maintenance of civic amenities in vending zones in good condition and payment of maintenance charges for the civic amenities and facilities provided in the vending zones. It provides for a penalty on street vendors if they contravene any of the terms and conditions for the purpose of regulating street vending. The act makes it mandatory for the Rules to be notified, within one year of its commencement and Scheme to be notified within 6 months of its commencement to prevent any delay in its implementation.

Penalty on non-compliance

The act makes provision for a penalty of Rs. 2000 on street vendors for their contravention of the regulating provisions. This seems to be harsh and can lead to significant losses in their earnings if misused by the concerned authorities.

Critical Appraisal of the act

Street vending provides the opportunity self employment to the unemployed poor. But, the life of a street vendor in India is awkward in many ways. On the one hand, they cater to the need for essentials, food and other items of daily use at affordable prices for customers across economic categories; on the other hand, they occupy precious space meant for pedestrians and vehicles, thanks to the chaotic city and town planning. In many instances, the street vendors pose law and order situations. They often end up paying significant fraction of their earnings as bribes and protection / extortion money.

Since long, the political class has played on both sides, on one hand vowing to protect the vendors and on the other hand, vowing to end the hawkers menace.  But the Street Vendors Law has been hailed to be the first such legislation to accommodate the claims and needs of the poor people employed in unorganised sector in urban plans. In any ways, recently passed act gives the street vendors reasons to smile because the act is set to change a lot in their lives. But mere enactment of a law does not bring changes by itself.

The act has envisaged that every city municipal corporation will set up a town vending committee which will have the municipal commissioner, representatives of the local planning authorities, residents’ associations and the street vendors. This committee will vet applications for street vending and fix locations for vendors. It also provides for the municipal corporation to survey street vendors in order to ensure their place in town plans. The number of vendors can be up to a maximum of 2.5% of the local population. Also, the Act requires the demarcation of areas for street vending which is reasonable and consistent with existing natural markets.

One of the biggest hurdles that would come up in implementation of this act is that this act overrides state and municipal laws, but the municipal zones come within the jurisdiction of states. Thus, it may possibly lead to centre-state friction. Second issue is its implementation by the local authorities and its compliance by police / other officials. The implementation of this act would need a change in the attitude of officials, residents and other stakeholders of the society. The effective implementation of such act needs structural changes in terms of town planning.

Moreover, the bill does not specify the principles to be followed in creating street vending plans, demarcating vending zones and allocating number of vendors per zone, thus leaving the onus of creating schemes to Municipalities of the State. This defeats the purpose of a Central legislation. Vendors on Railway Stations are also not covered under the Bill.